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I sent out a call for ideas on icebreakers in October 2008, asking for non-traditional "get-to-know-you" activities to kick off an upcoming team retreat. In the case of this specific retreat it is the first coming together of a newly formed technical team with members working out of Nairobi, Delhi, and London. As I explained in the question sent to KM4dev, I wanted to model KS practices from the very beginning of the three-day workshop, and more importantly, help create an environment of open communication.

Much to my delight, all sorts of great suggestions poured in. This community KM4dev wiki exists as an attempt to bring together and summarize the subsequent e-discussion that took place, and hopefully, generate yet other creative icebreaker ideas.


meetings, facilitation, icebreakers, participation, relationship, social

Detailed Description

[the meat of the topic – clearly, crisply communicated summary of the topic. Where relevant, a brief story – no more than 1-2 paragraphs - of how this topic has been turned into practice, ideally from the KM4Dev archives? If the example is long, separate into a separate subsection]

KM4Dev Discussions

Examples in Application

  • Marc Steinlin: "Today I have just opened the Inter-agency Conference on Local Economic Development. We have right away started with a World Café - no introduction, no welcome, no explanations - it clearly signalled that this is the participants' event, that they are important and they should hold conversations and share. Only after 2 hours, we did the formal opening."
  • Lucie Lamoureux: On the tagging icebreaker - "I've also been using it a fair bit and people seem to like it a lot. The way I usually do it is to first ask people to write down a keyword on their name tag that describes them in a professional setting (e.g. "meticulous", "hard-working", etc.). They then have to walk around and read what other people wrote down, then try to cluster around those they feel a certain kinship or sense of belonging to. Then you ask these "clusters" to give themselves a new name or keyword, basically what they collectively represent. Then, I usually repeat the same exercise with one keyword that describes them in a personal setting (e.g. "fun-loving", "mother", "movies", etc.) and do the same again. Note: you can do this with a pretty big group, I've done it with up to 50 people. It's fun and a bit chaotic, it gets people to move around, to look at name tags, to start talking to people and to find commonalities, which always helps when trying to build "togetherness", as you mentioned."
  • Ernst Bollinger: "Storytelling is a nice method to get people involved at the same time with each other and with the topic of the workshop. In the Story telling guide, the approach with the jumpstart story is explained (page 28). Have a look at it. It should be something you are not yet fed up.üre%20Story%20Guide_englisch.pdf

  • Jaap Pels: "Once I had the pleasure to work in India.

For the first session our Indian partner prepared little papers with titles of Bollywood songs; two of each. People had to choose a song and find their partner by both singing the evergreen. That was fun, but your participants might like the ' river of life' approach, see; people make a drawing about their life along a river and tell about it."

  • Chris Watkins: "I've seen some interesting exercises in "unconference" environments. E.g. at the "Open Everything retreat" they asked us to put ourselves on a line to describe how much we our organizations practice "open", and then to put ourselves on a graph representing how much we practice open in our personal lives (on one axis) and our work environment (on the other).

At BarCampAfrica, everyone was seated like a conventional audience, but we were asked to stand up if we were from Africa or had ever been to Africa, and then to stand up if we had come from outside the state for the event. (I was surprised how many had been to Africa - it gave me quite a different feeling about the event.)

The aim of these (I was told by someone who helps run such events) was to do something that will create a visceral impression of who's in the room, and it was certainly helpful for that. He gave another example: Pick 3 different reasons people might be there (e.g. funding, philanthropy... something else) and have participants align themselves physically in a triangle, with their distance/closeness to each corner representing the relative priorities."

  • Carl Jackson: "For the icebreaker for twenty I have the Alphabet Business Card Mixer – you have 10 mins to exchange cards with everyone in the room, but you must collect them in alphabetical order of first names starting with the letter after your first name (so as Carl I have to start collecting from D and work round to B) – lots of chaos and impromptu KS, plus we all have each others details for future reference. Need to tell people before hand to bring 20 cards with them and have some blank card available for those without to make their own the night before."

  • Mustapha Malki: "I understand your concern and would suggest People Bingo, an icebreaker based on the famous game of Bingo which will give access to people to know each other in a very "ludique" way. However it needs to inventory some of the hobbies and other data from the participants ahead of the start of the workshop so that you can prepare the matrix of the Bingo game (5 x 5 matrix as in the game). And the first who fills a diagonal, line or row will scream "Bingo". The facilitator will have to check the truth of the information of the successful bingo by asking the person concerned about the cell ticked by the winner to confirm the information.I applied this tool 2-3 times and it turned quite an exciting one (being an icebreaker, an energiser, and a relaxing game at the same time.)"

Specific Icebreakers

Related FAQs

[Insert links to related FAQs]

Further Information

Original Author and Subsequent Contributors of this FAQ

Erica Nelson, Knowledge Manager, Marie Stopes International - London

Dates of First Creation and Further Revisions

FAQ KM4Dev Source Materials

[Raw text of email discussions on which the FAQ is based]

  • Marc Steinlin on the strategic importance of and picking icebreakers: "I think it's important that you consider carefully, what you want to create as foundation of the workshop to come. In my experience - and that of others - you have the first 30-60 minutes to establish a "culture" and set the tone for the entire rest of the workshop. Ie. if you want people to carefully listen to each other, you have to make them doing that in the beginning. If you want them to interact and create networks of relationships, they should have a first opportunity to do so. This is why conventional openings with key notes are so detrimental - they immediately create a climate of talking heads, disengagement, boredom - and afterwards organisers are surprised if participants don't listen, don't participate, don't engage..."